Paul's Prison Epistles: Paul And The Colossians


Colossian Problem IV—Rulers and Authorities: Colossians 2:15

As we have seen, the false teachers in Colosse encouraged believers to worship angels and spiritual beings. Paul responded to this heresy by emphasizing Christ’s superiority over every power and authority in heaven and on earth. He wrote of Jesus’ supremacy in Colossians 1:16:

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:16).

Here Paul mentioned thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. Thrones and powers translate forms of the Greek words thronos and kuriotēs. Both these words commonly referred to human kings and other earthly rulers, but they could also refer to spiritual beings. Rulers and authorities, in turn, translate forms of the Greek words archē and exousia, words that usually refer to invisible spiritual powers such as angels and demons. 

In the worldview of the false teachers in Colosse, the angelic and demonic spiritual authorities were significantly greater than their earthly human counterparts. The false teachers greatly exaggerated the power of angels and demons, so much so that they attributed to these invisible rulers actions and abilities that in reality belong to Christ alone.

Paul pointed out their error by praising Christ as the Lord of all creation. Rather than distinguishing between the spiritual and earthly authorities, Paul treated them as one, indicating that the spiritual and the earthly were far more similar than they were different. They were both created, and both were inferior to Christ. The real contrast to be drawn was not of the spiritual over the earthly, as the false teachers insisted, but of Christ over all. Again, as he said in Colossians 1:16:

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth (Colossians 1:16).

Paul went on to say that the spiritual forces and Christ were in direct conflict. The false teachers thought that worshiping Christ was compatible with worshiping spiritual authorities. But Paul indicated that regardless of how the false teachers envisioned the spiritual beings they worshiped, the truth was that only demons allow themselves to be worshiped. God’s holy angels have no part in such idolatry. And Christ does not permit the worship of his enemies. Paul addressed this point in Colossians 2:15 where he wrote:

Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:15).

Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God disarmed and triumphed over the spiritual powers and authorities. In other words, the spiritual powers and authorities opposed God in spiritual war — they were rebellious, evil spirits, enemies of God. They were demons, not holy angels. But through Jesus Christ, God had stripped these demons of their ability to fight and had humiliated them in defeat. These fallen, powerless, defeated demons were the spiritual powers worshiped by the false teachers in Colosse, the ones to which Paul referred as “rulers and authorities.”